Hamid’s Shadow: Karzai Confidant Takes Aim at Afghan Presidency

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Susanne Koelbl, March 27, 2014 (Photo Gallery - Translated from the German by Charles Hawley).

Zalmai Rassoul has long been a close political ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Now, he is campaigning to succeed his mentor. With Karzai backing Rassoul, many believe the outgoing leader is seeking to retain his influence … //

… Security Questions:  

  • The Taliban, too, will influence the election in their own way. In southern Afghanistan, they have threatened to attack those attempting to cast their ballots and Taliban militants even stormed an election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least six. Eleven other people were killed in two different suicide attacks on the same day, underscoring the widespread violence that has swelled as the vote approaches. Last Thursday, a Taliban attack on a Jalalabad police station left 18 people dead. The bloodshed has once again raised the question as to how Afghanistan can ever move toward prosperity and attract outside investment in the absence of at least a modicum of security.
  • Incumbent Karzai is not running again, prohibited by the constitution of serving a third straight term. And as the end of his presidency rapidly approaches, the 56-year-old has become embittered, frustrated and angry. He feels betrayed by the Americans, with the primary disputes being terrorism the unresolved conflict with Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan. The Taliban have long sought refuge across the border following attacks and continue to do so today.
  • The Americans, Karzai complains, have failed to exert sufficient pressure on the Pakistani government in Islamabad and only fight terrorists in his own country, and not on the other side of the border. That is also one reason why he has refused to sign the agreement allowing for US troops to continue being stationed in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year, the so-called bilateral security agreement.
  • Karzai’s favorite in the campaign is his former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, even though the outgoing president’s two older brothers, Qayum, 57, and Mahmoud, 58, both see themselves as worthy successors. Mahmoud emphasizes the economic opportunities available in Afghanistan. “A businessman like me would be a good choice,” he says during an interview at his house — invisible behind high security walls — in the Sherpur district of Kabul. A glass bowl in front of him is overflowing with fruits and sweets to offer to the myriad guests he receives daily. “In the final analysis, isn’t it about the economy, about money?”
  • For years, though, Mahmoud has been criticized over his opaque business dealings, with perhaps the most bizarre incident being his involvement with the scandal-plagued Kabul Bank. The private financial institution was plundered by its own management. Hundreds of millions of dollars is said to have been embezzled — much of it hidden in airline service trollies and flown out of the country.
  • The relationship between President Karzai and Mahmoud is considered tense, though Hamid has consistently allowed his brother to move on. Karzai confidants say that the president considers the corruption allegations against his family to be politically motivated, a kind of psychological warfare waged by the Americans. He believes that US officials feed information to the media in an attempt to damage him.

It Was All Ugly: … //

… ATMs and Shopping Malls: … //

… Karzai’s Ongoing Influence:

  • Challenger Abdullah Abdullah suspects that the maneuver is part of the president’s grand plan. In the history of Afghanistan, brothers have often murdered brothers, sons have killed their fathers and fathers have eliminated their sons, Abdullah says. “Karzai doesn’t trust Mahmoud and Qayum and believes it will be easier to control Zalmai Rassoul.” But whoever governs in the future, will have to reckon with the ongoing influence of Karzai.
  • The stadium of Nangarhar is immediately behind the governor’s residence. The freshly renovated building is painted a friendly yellow, punctuated by blue sun umbrellas and surrounded by a garden; even the turquoise swimming pool has been redone. It was once the royal family’s winter residence.
  • Thousands of people have gathered on the grass of the sports facility, most of them are young. Many of them are participating in their first ever campaign event. When the candidates appear, they grab for their mobile phones, hoping to take a picture of Rassoul and Habiba Sarabi, who Rassoul introduces as his vice presidential candidate. Currently, she is the only woman in this campaign of nine presidential candidates with a chance of winning. But Zia Massud, the brother of the late Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massud, is greeted with the most frenetic applause. Ahmed Shah Massud fought the Taliban for years before al-Qaida militants assassinated him two days before Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Then, the national anthem is played. Rassoul is now wearing a huge turban, a sign of recognition for his leadership. Everyone stands; the event feels celebratory. The police seem to have the security for the event under control; not a single soldier from the international protection force is to be seen. Finally, young Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has indeed transformed into a state. It is instable, fragile and corrupt, but it is no longer quite so easy to knock over.

(full text).


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